A sex-for-marijuana Internet sting by the Tigard Police Department is over because the Washington County district attorney’s office stopped prosecuting the prostitution arrests.
In late 2008 or early 2009, Tigard officers began posting online advertisements on Craigslist, posing as women willing to have sex in exchange for pot. Police Chief William Dickinson, said Wednesday that police arrested about 40 people during the sting but stopped in June because a top prosecutor declined to pursue several cases and told them to change their tactics.
“When the DA’s office tells us, ‘You’re not making that clear enough that this is a prostitute,’ then we’re going to change the way we do business,” said Dickinson, who coincidentally announced his retirement Wednesday. “The law says, ‘sex for a fee.’ That’s what they want, and they will prosecute those cases for us.”
Dickinson said prosecutors dropped charges in about a half-dozen cases, but he could not provide immediate numbers to verify his estimate. Rob Bletko, a chief deputy district attorney, said “a number of cases” were not prosecuted but he also could not be exact.
“I know Tigard has changed their approach in how they investigate these cases,” he said, “and hopefully we’re not going to see these problematic cases anymore.”
Over recent months, three police officers posing as women posted graphic advertisements in the casual encounters section of Craigslist, a popular Internet classified service. Dickinson said the ads asked for drugs instead of money, because they found during other stings, drugs are typically tied to prostitution.
But one defense attorney on Wednesday called the police tactics entrapment — something Dickinson and Bletko denied.
“I believe this whole program is a way to entrap people,” said Gabe Bickle-Eldridge, a public defender representing clients in seven of the cases.
Bickle-Eldridge said officers represented themselves using photos taken from the Internet. The photos show young women who don’t look like prostitutes, he said, referring to a photo in Wednesday’s Willamette Week newspaper, which first reported the story.
He said officers also exchanged graphic e-mails or text messages with men, stating that the women they impersonated had not recently had sex.
“Does that suggest someone who is a prostitute?” said Bickle-Eldridge, who said prosecutors dismissed cases against two of his clients.
The public defender said three of his clients pleaded guilty to lesser charges. He said he plans to pursue entrapment defenses in the other two cases.
Tigard Mayor Craig Dirksen defended the sting and said it is no different from undercover police officers who are solicited for sex during street-corner operations.
“Obviously, you have people going onto Craigslist or wherever looking for this,” he said.
Dickinson announced publicly Wednesday that he would retire as police chief in November. He said he told City Manager Craig Prosser about his plans about a month ago.
Prosser and the mayor both said Dickinson has done an amazing job in his six years in Tigard. Prosser pointed to the sting as an example.
“I’m glad that they’re out there doing that, quite frankly. It’s part of protecting the city,” he said. “Can we do it a little bit better? Fine, yeah, we can. And we will.”
– Article from The Oregonian.